The iconic Rhine and Danube rivers get most of the hype when it comes to river cruising. Deservedly so, as these are amazing waterways that cut through the heart of historic Europe, winding past towns, villages, cities and some of the most breathtaking regions you can imagine.
You know what? The Dutch Waterways are pretty darn cool, too. I enjoyed a rich experience on the rivers and canals in the Netherlands and Belgium during my 10-day cruise with AmaWaterways — and it was all a result of a Mother Nature-prompted change in plans.
The driest summer in recent memory led to low water levels on the Rhine River. This meant that our original itinerary would be shifted from the Rhine to the Dutch Waterways while we sailed on AmaPrima. Looking back, it all worked out for the best, giving the 100-plus passengers onboard a chance to become fully immersed in an underrated cruise region.
Dutch Waterways itineraries are especially popular in spring time when the tulips bloom throughout the Netherlands. While this was not a classic Tulip Cruise, we still had a good time visiting interesting destinations on a journey that started and ended in Amsterdam.
Sailing within the compact network of inland waterways, many being fed by waters from the Rhine River as it flows across the border from Germany into the Netherlands, we explored scenic villages throughout the flatlands.
Colleen and I arrived and quickly settled into our cabin, ready to begin our cruise. AmaPrima would stay overnight in Amsterdam, which allowed us to relax for a bit to shake off the jetlag of our travels before enjoying our first dinner in the main dining room amid our fellow cruisers. We then ventured out for a walk. It takes only about 20 minutes to wander from the cruise port to the center of Amsterdam, and we found a nice little bar, ordered a couple Amstel beers and did a some people watching before returning to the ship.
The city, all lit up at night and bustling with activity, gave us a burst of energy and excitement for the rest our cruise.
After a good night’s sleep, we rose to take part in our first class in the AmaWaterways’ Wellness Program. AmaWaterways has designed a revolutionary fitness concept that soon will be available on almost all of its river cruises. Each day onboard, a Wellness Host offers four or five fitness classes that are available to passengers at no extra cost.
Throughout the week, the schedule included more than 40 classes, and we joined more than a dozen sessions, taking part in Pilates, yoga, stretching, core and circuit training sessions that were offered mornings and afternoons and run by our Wellness Host Andre from Portugal.
The classes take part on the sun deck when the weather is nice enough and in the lounge in the mornings for early risers to start their days with yoga and stretching. The stretching classes proved to be the most popular and a great way to get our bodies prepared for busy days exploring ashore.
AmaWaterways started its Wellness Program in 2017 on one ship, AmaLyra, and it has been so popular in the first year that it is going to be a fleetwide feature.
“The feedback, the ratings, the things we get back are really positive,” says Selina Wank, the cruise line’s first Wellness Host and the “sports scientist” who designed the program from scratch. “A lot of people even say they only came because we have this program.”
So, we were pleased to be able to keep up with our workouts during the week because the food on AmaPrima was enticing, with numerous options from the menu and buffet each day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. These included a wide range of healthy choices like salads, fruits and smoothies. I had more desserts than usual (there is a daily ice cream bar at lunch) as well as choosing the juicy burgers and delicious fresh-made pizzas for several meals.
We left Amsterdam and sailed to Rotterdam where we took a bike tour around the city. We pedaled for about 12 miles past canals, the seaside and into the heart of the action at the Market Hall and through the maze of the city’s unique Cube Houses complex.
AmaWaterways ships carry a fleet of bikes onboard that are used for guided excursions and also available for cruisers to sign out for independent exploration. We later used the bikes to get around on our own in Ghent and in the small village of Enkhuizen.
Rotterdam and Amsterdam were the largest destinations during our sailing, and they offered a lot to see and do. Passengers went to see the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. In Rotterdam, it was the biking outing or a cultural walking tour that included the city marina and Jewish heritage sites.
However, the charms of this voyage were unveiled in the smaller ports. We went for a run in Kinderdijk. The UNESCO World Heritage site is known by its majestic windmills. There are 19 of these monuments — most still occupied by families and in use — that fill the horizon and border the canals in this quiet village.
Ghent offered surpassing beauty on a lazy Sunday as we rode into town. The crisp weather was made pleasant by the sunshine and blue skies. We visited the medieval castle Gravensteen and sipped hot chocolate. Yes, made with real Belgian chocolate!
In Antwerp, we joined a culinary tour. First, it was fresh-made waffles with cream. Then, a sampling of top Belgian beers — and capped off with creamy chocolate pralines. It’s a good thing we had the Wellness Program to help us justify these sweet indulgences.
We also enjoyed plenty of scenic sailing time on AmaPrima, and our route took us into waterways both narrow and wide, along countryside settings, under bridges and through locks. We had plenty of time to relax onboard during this time, and nights were filled with guest entertainers, such as singers and dancers from the region. But the highlight was the Halloween party. Staff decked out the ship to give it a proper spooky vibe, and passengers and crew alike put on costumes and hit the dance floor for after-dinner fun.
Our journey wound down as we made stops in Dordrecht, Utrecht (to visit Castle de Haar and its pretty gardens), Enkhuizen and Hoorn in the Netherlands. We walked alongside canals, spotted more windmills and sought out pubs to duck out of the intermittent rains and savor a regional beer here and there.
All too quickly, we were arriving back in Amsterdam for one last day and overnight. We went for a run in Vondelpark, wandered the Museum Quarter and chose the AmaWaterways city tour that culminated with a stop at a café for a taste of three different ages of Reypenaer cheese (amazing) and the country’s national drink Jenever (a juniper-flavored liquor).
Colleen and I joined just one other couple on the tour, and we all considered ourselves fortunate to be able to cap our amazing cruise with such an intimate little party. We raised our small gin glasses, clinked them together, looked one another directly in the eyes (that is the polite and proper Dutch way to toast) and said “Proost!” to a wonderful trip.
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